Eva saw them arrive on her floor just as another of Lucy’s tendrils snapped off.
Zoe had her dagger out in her hand already while Juliana was in nearly full combat armor. Her face was clear, but she otherwise had a metal helmet covering her head. It looked as if she would be able to fill in the hole at the first sign of trouble.
They weren’t running with half as much speed as Eva thought they should be. Of course, one doesn’t simply rush Ylva. The rest of them had no excuse.
“I need you to destroy as much of the inside of the room as possible,” Eva said, shifting her gaze between Zoe, Nel, and Juliana. “And fast.”
In the short time that she had been left waiting for the others to arrive, Eva had shed more blood in an attempt to damage the shackles and other circles around Lucy. Whatever had been done to the door had also been done to the floor, rendering her efforts worthless for the most part. The ceiling hadn’t been protected. She had managed to destroy a few markings up there. Whatever was pulling Lucy apart had slowed, but not stopped.
Most of the circles and shackles were on the floor.
Nel would be the best person to help out. If her magic-eating lightning could remove whatever protections were on the floor, everything would be easier for everyone else. She didn’t even need to damage the floor herself, just enable Eva’s fireballs and Zoe’s lightning.
She was hoping that Juliana and Zoe would be able to overpower whatever damage resistance enchantments there were.
Unfortunately for Eva, and more so for Lucy, both women balked as soon as they caught sight of the room.
Zoe reared back as she covered her mouth with the back of one hand, gazing into the room with wide eyes. She recovered quickly enough and started lashing out with both lightning and razor wind. She gave no complaint nor asked what had happened as she set into her work.
Juliana did not fare half as well. She stumbled backwards, one hand clasped around her mouth and the other across her stomach. After a few dry heaves, she managed to hold down her lunch–or whatever was the last meal that she ate. Still, she didn’t immediately move to help. She stood to the side and breathed in a few gasps of air.
Opening her mouth, Eva just about berated Juliana for her weak stomach while Lucy needed help. The thought only lasted an instant before Eva turned away. Not in disgust. This would be one of those things that Juliana would berate herself over later. One of the things that had caused her to dabble her fingers in diablery in the first place.
Besides, Nel was far more deserving of Eva’s disappointment. The moment the augur looked into the room, her eyes rolled back into her head as she collapsed against Ylva. Really, with how she had acted during Sawyer’s torture, Eva didn’t know why she had expected anything else.
Berating an unconscious woman wouldn’t do any good.
Instead, Eva focused her irritation on her fireballs. Already feeling lethargic and annoyed from a thumping in her head, she had abandoned using more of her own blood. Passing out wouldn’t help Lucy at all.
Exploding fireballs worked well enough in place of her blood. In fact, they probably worked better. Maybe if she had Zagan’s blood with her, but that was back at the women’s ward. A casual visit to Ylva and Zoe shouldn’t have needed the blood. It was stupid and foolish, something that Eva wanted to blame on her anemia-induced headache.
The explosions were somewhat problematic. Though she had managed to destroy the floor containing the shackle right at the doorway, it had taken a lot of power behind the fireball. Enough that trying the same thing near Lucy would probably do a whole lot more harm to the already severely injured demon.
Eva was toying with the power near Lucy. So far, she hadn’t managed to scratch the floor. Before long, it might be better just to explode Lucy and hope that she could survive.
“Eva,” Zoe said. Her own lightning was having less effect than Eva’s fireballs. “The spot you just hit, on the count of three, hit it again with everything you’ve got.”
“I can do fairly large explosions,” Eva said.
“Probably not larger than Wayne’s.”
Eva shrugged and started building up a fireball.
The same spot that she had hit previously was a larger scorch mark just at the edge of the main shackles holding Lucy in place. Whatever was peeling her apart could stick around as long as it wanted if she could get Lucy out of there. Unfortunately, scorch marks weren’t enough to break the shackles. They had been carved into the linoleum, not just drawn on with some chalk.
Eva started compressing the gathered flames. This would definitely be a larger one. It was just what Zoe had asked for.
Hopefully she knew what she was doing.
There were shimmers in the air around Lucy. Enough of them to make it almost hard to see through. Zoe’s dagger was out and pointed straight at the disturbance in the air.
And she was taking a long time in getting to three.
All the while, Eva continued streaming fire into the small marble. She didn’t want to lose control of it while it was in her hand, but Zoe had asked for her best.
As soon as Zoe spoke, the semi-translucent bubble of air around Lucy went completely opaque.
Eva didn’t question the effect. She tossed the unstable marble of fire.
It landed just to the left of the already existing scorch mark. The moment it hit, the fragile shell of stable flames broke, unleashing everything inside.
Though she normally enjoyed a bit of heat, this was a bit much. Eva took a step back, shielding her face with an open palm as the wave of heat and noise rushed over her. Even half covering her eyes didn’t help block out the light.
For a moment, she stood in the doorway, not quite able to tell what was going on. She could still see through her blood sight. Juliana was behind her and Zoe had stepped around the edge of the doorway to avoid most of the heat. Whatever Zoe had done had worked. At least, in as far as Lucy was not a pile of ash after that.
But she couldn’t see the important thing. Was the floor broken?
Blinking away the spots in her eyes, Eva shook her head in an attempt to clear the fading ringing from her mind. As soon as her senses were back to a more normal sate, she took a look in the room.
Or what was left of it.
The floor around whatever shield or bubble or whatever Zoe had done was practically nonexistent. Only half of the couch was left behind, the rest was on fire. And that wasn’t all that was on fire. The curtains over the windows were smoking and the walls had embers glowing along parts. Over the kitchen counter in the back of the room, the windows had been blown out.
Given that the windows faced the street, hopefully no one had been walking around out there.
With her real eyes and a bit of closer look through her blood sight, Eva could see that Lucy had not survived unscathed. The skin covering her tendrils closest to the explosion had darkened and cracked. There was a bit of singing going on even on the opposite side of her body.
Whatever had been peeling her apart must have been damaged in the explosion. All of her tentacles were lying on the floor, writhing somewhat, but not being pulled from her main mass.
The important part was that she had survived. With her lack of a central heart or even a central brain, Eva doubted that Lucy would suddenly disappear into a portal to Hell. She would be able to heal as long as she didn’t bleed out.
It probably wouldn’t come to that, but Eva could ensure that it wouldn’t with her dagger.
“Careful,” Zoe said as Eva took a step into the room. She put a hand on Eva’s shoulder, stopping her from moving in any farther.
And she honestly was. This room had been set up to be extremely unfriendly towards demons. Half the markings inside were nothing that she had seen before. She almost wished that she had had the presence of mind to take a picture of it with her shiny new cell phone for Devon. He would have been able to tell her what it was all for.
But she hadn’t. She had been worried for Lucy and had immediately jumped to act on that.
Gingerly walking into the room, Eva approached the wiggling mass of tentacles. She had already broken the shackles that were right in front of the door. The shackles holding Lucy were broken as well. Much of the floor was broken between them and Eva couldn’t see anything on the walls or ceiling that might be dangerous.
At least, nothing between her and Lucy. Moving around the room, she could see some drawings around the kitchen windows and the bedroom doorway.
Eva stayed well away from there as she approached.
“Hey Lucy, I’m here.” Eva spoke in a soft tone of voice, keeping as calm as possible. “It’s Eva. You remember me, right?”
Lucy could be absolutely vicious when pressed. She had heard from Irene just what had happened to the enigmas that had infested her room. Startling Lucy could be a quick way to get herself killed.
The pile of tentacles didn’t respond. It just continued squirming around itself. Eva hadn’t really expected otherwise. In order to speak, Lucy not only had to form a mouth, tongue, throat, lungs, and everything else required, but she also had to use her tentacles to do so. With how injured she was, Eva wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t hear from the woman for a long while.
It was reassuring that she wasn’t lashing out in an attempt to strangle Eva.
“I’m going to press the flat of my dagger against your body,” Eva said as she knelt down next to Lucy. “It will help stop your bleeding. Don’t worry. You’re safe right now.”
Eva waited just a moment before reaching her dagger out, slow and steady. For all she knew, Lucy wasn’t in a state to understand a single word that she had said. The moment she touched her blade to the tentacles, she might find herself without an arm.
But, nothing happened. The flat of her blade pressed against one of the more profusely bleeding spots just as she had said it would. Lucy wiggled, but didn’t try to reach out.
If anything, she drew back in on herself.
Ignoring the reaction, Eva concentrated on the blood. She didn’t do anything with it for a moment but press her dagger against Lucy. As it pumped through her body, Eva gathered more of it under her control. When blood reached the points where her tentacles had been pulled off, Eva hardened the blood.
It wouldn’t be comfortable. Plates of hardened blood, even without any sharp edges, would be inconvenient when walking around. Or crawling, or whatever Lucy did when she wasn’t shaped like a human. But it would keep her blood inside of her. That was the important part.
The blood at the tip of her dagger hardened as she pulled away. It was done. Lucy was still a blob, but she wasn’t a bleeding blob.
Standing up, Eva let out a sigh of relief. She had been worried. Real worry. Not some superficial concern like she had felt for Lynn Cross after just about killing her with a teleport. The only reason she had cared for and healed Lynn was because of Shalise.
It was a bit strange. Not something that she really would have expected of herself under the best of circumstances. And after tromping through her domain, Eva had been all but certain that she would have reacted with revulsion upon seeing Lucy outside of her human form.
With a shake of her head, Eva looked back to the rest of the group. Zoe and Ylva were both looking around the apartment, though Ylva’s eyes were glued on a certain half-a-hexagon on part of the undamaged floor. Nel was slumped against the door frame. Clad in full armor, Juliana stood over her. Two elongated bars of metal stuck out from her hands as she posed herself half-crouched and ready for anything.
Eva was at a lost about what to do now. Tracking down those people who had been living in the room was a good start, but perhaps not this very minute. Certainly, Lucy couldn’t stay here. She needed a safe place to rest and recuperate.
The women’s ward would work. Her blood wards might have been taken down by the Elysium Order in less than a half-hour, but they would keep plenty of people from just wandering in.
And that was a definite concern.
No one seemed to live on this floor. Perhaps the owners of this apartment room had rented out the entire place. Maybe they had done something worse. But there were people on the floors above and below.
Her explosion hadn’t been one of those silent kinds. People had definitely heard. Some of those in the closer rooms might have even felt it. A few people were already on their way downstairs.
But Eva wasn’t sure that she could just wander off with her. Lucy was contracted to Martina Turner. It might be some sort of faux pas to just run off with her.
Whatever happened, something needed to be done now.
“Zoe,” Eva said, “people are coming to investigate the noise.”
After snapping one last picture with her phone of a partially intact ritual circle, Zoe glanced back towards the door. “How many?”
“Uh, all of them?”
“Great. You don’t see the original occupants of this room anywhere?”
Eva shook her head. “Not anywhere in my range. Didn’t see them on the way up either.” Though she hadn’t exactly been paying attention then, she was fairly confident that she would have noticed someone familiar.
“It is probably safest for them to remain in their rooms.” She started towards the door, but paused. “So long as this place doesn’t burn down. Can you extinguish–”
A chilled wind blew through the apartment room. Nothing Eva or Zoe had done. It took Eva a moment to notice Ylva looking around the room.
The fires weren’t anything large. Small smoldering cloths or wood. Whatever was flammable that hadn’t been put out by the force of the blast. Though none of it was major, there was the possibility that it all could flare up and ignite something.
Not that it mattered. All the flames died instantly under Ylva’s gaze.
“Thanks,” Zoe said as she stepped out of the room to intercept the other tenants.
She went out, holding her hands up as she approached the nearest person. Not as if she were being held up by a gun—or a wand, as was more likely at Brakket—but in a calming manner, trying to assure everyone that everything was just fine. Perhaps not fine, but rather under control.
Whatever the case, Zoe could handle it.
Eva had more important things to focus on.
Namely, sitting down and taking a nap.
Now that the immediate danger and excitement was over with, Eva could feel herself becoming less steady on her feet. Between Sawyer, Serena, and now Lucy, Eva could barely extend her fingers. She simply couldn’t maintain the pressure needed to keep her palms open. Normally it wasn’t something she had to even think about doing.
Potions, being almost exclusively designed for humans, had been doing less and less for Eva over the past few years. Even still, taking a blood replenishing potion might not be a bad idea. She would have to take a good ten or so before it affected her even a fraction of what a human would need, but every little bit would help.
Of course, that was something of a personal matter. More pressing was the fact that there was an enemy about.
Someone had tried to kill Lucy. Not just kill, but torture her along the way.
Eva blinked as she sat down on the floor. Juliana had mentioned that both Lucy and Daru were missing. If Lucy was here, where was Daru?
Tuning her senses for the morail demon, Eva found nothing. He wasn’t in the building. Or if he was, he was hidden behind whatever suppression field had hidden Lucy. But she also couldn’t see him with her sense of blood, so he probably wasn’t around.
Taken away by the people who put Lucy into this situation? Fled? He may already be dead, back floating in the Void along with Arachne. If he wasn’t, maybe he had something left behind that Nel could use to track him down.
Glancing over, Eva found the augur slowly coming around. Thanks entirely to Juliana’s diligent efforts in waking her.
Likely a waste of time. She would take one look around the room and pass out again.
Or maybe not, Eva thought as she looked around the room herself. A good amount of Lucy’s torn tentacles had been vaporized by her explosion. The ones that hadn’t were gathered in the corners of the room. A far less gruesome sight than having them scattered everywhere.
Looking up, Eva noticed Ylva’s gaze. She had returned to the hexagonal marking on the floor.
“Thoughts?” Eva asked. She had no idea what the marking was. Her question was broad enough that it could also include thoughts on the former occupants. She had warned Ylva, or mentioned them at least, but obviously nothing had been done.
Ylva’s cold eyes turned up to Eva for just a moment. “Hunters,” she said as she looked back to the hexagon.
Eva brushed some of the lingering soot and debris away from the mark. The hexagon had a simple symbol contained within. Not any sort of magical sigils or runes, but a simple skull with feathered wings stretching out from behind it. “What is it?”
“A sign. A sign We have not borne witness to in centuries.”
“What does it do?”
“Do? Nothing.” Ylva’s head shook ever so slightly. “Not how it is now. Upon someone being released from their mortal restraints, it calls out an agent of Death. Nothing so high as a god of Death, but a mere servant such as Ourself. Used in ages long past to ensure that a loved one passed on properly, it has fallen out of use in recent centuries.”
“That’s…” Eva glanced back towards the entrance of the room. There had been shackles set up. Complicated ones. She had never seen anything quite like them, nor could she guess about their specific purpose. Nothing good, that was for certain. “You’re the nearest agent of death, aren’t you. This was a trap for you?”
“We came to the same conclusion.”
Eva looked back to Lucy. A thought crossed her mind and she almost reached out to pat the now still demon. She didn’t know whether or not Lucy would appreciate the contact. It might still be a bad idea to unnecessarily touch her.
“Would it have worked with Lucy? Demons don’t die like mortals do.”
“We are… unsure. We would not feel a demon’s passing under normal circumstances. Such a symbol would force the call no matter what died. The hunters believed that it would work that way, at least.”
Obviously, Eva couldn’t help but think. “So, you didn’t notice anything about them while we were gone?”
“Our observations were limited. They came and went at several points, never acting overly suspicious.”
“Well, they got Lucy in here somehow.”
“The woman carried in a larger case yesterday evening. We believed it to be mere luggage. Never once did we feel the presence of a nearby demon.”
“Neither did I, on my way here. I only found her because I can see through walls.”
“It is fortunate that you did.”
“So,” Eva said after a lull in the conversation, “how do we find them?”
If they knew about Ylva, they probably knew about Nel as well. She would look around for any part of them that might be used to track them. If they did know about Nel, Eva doubted that they would have left anything behind.
But they couldn’t be allowed to get away with this. She had learned her lesson from Sawyer. She was no good at long and drawn out torture sessions. A quick kill would get the same end result.
“We will be wary. Do not seek them. Anywhere they might live could be as trapped as this building. Charging into battle with a foe as prepared as this would end poorly.”